Tag Archives: Natural Bridge

Rocky Mountain Hire Car

Tuesday 6 September 2022 – We had a simple task today: transfer from Banff to our next hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, some 38 miles away along the Trans-Canada Highway.  Mode of transport – hire car; Google maps estimates the journey time as just a smidge under three quarters of an hour.

It took us all day. It included some two hours of walking. Obviously.

This is not, I should say, because we had any significant problems, although the guys at Avis increased the  chaos level of the start by initially handing us the keys to The Wrong Car; it was because Jane found us Interesting Things To Do On The Way.  The combination of Jane’s organisational skills and Google Maps’ dispensing of local knowledge is truly a thing to wonder at.

So, no, we didn’t drive directly the Lake Louise and sink gratefully into a hot bath or a cold cocktail.  We wouldn’t even have started out on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) had a section of the alternative Bow Falls Parkway (Highway 1A) not been closed.  However, closed it was, so we took Highway 1 until the relevant exit and backtracked in order to get to our first Interesting Thing To Do – Johnston Canyon.

Almost immediately we left the main road, a photo opportunity arose around a bridge, a river and a mountain.

The bridge has no name and is simply in a photogenic location rather than being itself a thing of beauty; but it does have an osprey’s nest in it.  The river is the Bow River, whose eponymous Falls we had seen in Banff and which was still a very fetching shade of glacial blue. The mountain is Castle Mountain, which you may recognise (because you have been paying attention, haven’t you?)  from photos from different viewpoints in previous blogs. It was once renamed Eisenhower mountain in recognition of the enduring legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s impact on North America.  Reportedly, he was such a humble man that he never really saw the need for this recognition; and in any case there was something of a backlash from the locals who hadn’t been consulted on the name change. So its original name was restored, but the peak on the right hand side is called Eisenhower Peak.

This was the first digression, but we were soon at the attraction which Jane had planned we should visit.

(I find the French naming of these things amusing.) This canyon features a largely paved walkway beside the river which carved it out in the first place

and shows its glacial origins by its colour.  The walkway leads to Lower Falls and Upper Falls, and is a popular family day out – the walkway was quite, but not intolerably, congested. (We had to park in the overflow car park, which was about a quarter full. Gawd alone knows how packed the walkway would have been on a busy day.)

There is a bridge over the Lower Falls which leads to a small cavern giving a special viewpoint but which can only accommodate about two people at a time; this was obviously a popular activity, with a slow-moving queue.

We took a look at the falls, which are very attractive, although any Icelander would look at this and think (in Icelandic) “Hah! Making a foss about that?” *

We couldn’t be bothered to investigate the possibilities offered by the small cavern, so headed towards the Upper Falls.

Not very far, as it happens. The route thither was closed for “construction work”.  Never mind, we enjoyed the digression overall.

The overflow car park I mentioned had decent washroom facilities

which I schoolboyishly decided meant you could only pee on the left and poo on the right.

Our continuing journey took us back on to the main Highway 1, which rather nicely features wildlife corridors every 10 km or so, enabling animals to cross safely.

The scenery was quite striking, with lumpy bits and glaciers becoming more common.

Our next Interesting Thing To Do was, indeed, very interesting indeed; something that Jane had learned about on the Rocky Mountaineer whilst I was absent taking photos out of earshot of the commentary – the Spiral Tunnels.  Near a town called Field are two tunnels, completed in 1909, which twist trains back on themselves as a way of enabling transit without an unacceptably steep gradient – the steeper gradient had been tried but fatal derailments and runaway trains rendered a different solution necessary.  The link above explains how the tunnels work, but the practical upshot is that a train going through the lower tunnel twists back such that you can see it both coming and going, as it were.  We were fortunate that a long freight train was indeed going through it as we passed, so I tried to convey what goes on with a video.

The carriages barely visible through the trees in the foreground are towards the rear of the train; the middle of the train can be seen entering the tunnel in the background; and in the middle is the front of the train, having gone through the tunnel and turned through 270° before exiting, so now apparently moving in the opposite direction to the other parts.

Helpfully, there is an information board

and a model.

I hope that’s clear, then?

Field itself, although an unprepossessing town, is noteworthy for its proximity to the Burgess Shale – fossil formation containing remarkably detailed traces of soft-bodied biota of the Middle Cambrian Epoch (520 to 512 million years ago), and presumably discovered by an archeologist on a Field trip.  Thank you.  Thank you for reading my joke.

Our next stop was at a thing called the Natural Bridge.  I had no idea what this translates to, but it sounded intriguing and there were signposts, which made it easy to find and gives it credibility as an Interesting Thing To Do (ITTD).  Near it, Jane found a signpost which amused her.

I should point out that part of the Burgess Shale is the Mount Stephen Trilobite Fossil Bed. So, there.

The Natural Bridge is quite a sight (and sound).

and the colour of the water shows that it’s glacial in origin, although the silt level is very high, giving it a grey, milky appearance.

Google Maps asserts that there are Lower Falls a short way along a trail, and indeed there are, but getting a decent photo of them required determination, courage and mountaineering equipment.  Jane clung on to a tree whilst hanging out over a chasm to bring you this image

which is not at all bad, but it doesn’t do it real justice.  No matter; we had seen what a Natural Bridge looks like.

Our route to our final ITTD went by some more striking scenery.

(The Rocky Mountains really does this sort of thing rather well, wouldn’t you say?)

Paula and Sandrine, friends we had met at Farewell Harbour Lodge, had told us that their itinerary included staying at the Emerald Lake Lodge, and this sounds like it has definite possibilities as an ITTD, so we headed there.  Its ITTD cred was boosted by a car park full to bursting, so we had to park half a mile away along the side of the road.  As we walked towards it, I was wondering what we might see, when, through the trees I glimpsed something that gave me a bit of a clue.

It’s a lake whose glacial waters give it a green colour

although Jane asserts that it’s more turquoise than emerald, and who am I to argue? Anyway, the lake is very scenic; beside it is the Lodge, which consists of some equally photogenic accommodation.

Here are some more of the lakeside scenes.  I’m particularly fond of the last image.

The Emerald Lake was the last on today’s ITTD list, and anyway it was past earliest check-in time at the hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, so we headed there next.  Everything about it is huge

including the queue for someone to park your car for you – I wasn’t going to try it for fear of getting lost for days in the underground car park.

That’s how a 38 mile car journey can take all day and involve walking for a couple of hours.

Having heard that everything gets booked up here, we had in advance booked an early dinner in the Lakeview Lounge, which is quite aptly named.

and we enjoyed a very decent dinner which would have been dietetically blameless except for the gins.  But it was Gunpowder gin, which we’d first tasted through the good offices of friends, and so it would have been rude not to indulge ourselves.

After such an active and Interesting day, one might have thought we would retire quietly to our room and take things gently for the evening.  So we went for a walk. Obviously.  Well, the lakeside looked so pretty, we couldn’t resist.  And it was very scenic, walking along the north shore of the lake taking photos as the sun set.  The light was very interesting at times

and we managed to avoid the crowds of people who imagine that their presence in a photo improves the scene – there were a lot of these.

The hotel itself provides some nice framing opportunities

but the walk along the north shore, in dead calm conditions gave some lovely images.

And so, as the light finally faded

it was time for bed, as we had to set the alarm for 0500 in order not to miss tomorrow’s first ITTD.  You’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out what that was…..see you then.

*Foss is Icelandic for waterfall.